By: Esha Emmanuel Tamras
Shlimon Bet-Shmuel was born on April 24th 1950 in the small village of Bet-Baidey, near the town of Amadia in the Sapna region in northern Mesopotamia (Iraq today).
At an early age, Shlimon showed an interest in singing where he started chanting hymns and antiphonal (Alternation between two choirs) in the village church. The nature of the rich land and the deep rooted folk heritage mixed with ritual hymns, had a strong influence in building up his talent at an early stage of life.
After graduating from High School in 1970, Shlimon became an active member of the Assyrian Cultural Club in Baghdad, where he made numerous stage performances until he left the homeland, in September 1973. Some of the memorable songs which he performed during this period were: "Orkha D'Nineveh" or "The Road to Nineveh ", "Brata D'Oumtee" or "Daughter of my Nation", "Akkara" or "The Plowman"; and more.
On August 2nd, 1973, during the celebration of the third anniversary of the Assyrian Cultural Club, Shlimon performed an historical event when he sung his everlasting and epical work, the song of "Simele", to commemorate the August 1933 massacre of the Assyrian People in the village of Simele near the town of "Mosul", Iraq. This song is considered to be his masterpiece, and it is well known in the Assyrian communities worldwide. It is what led him to seek refuge in neighboring Iran, after being harassed by the Iraqi government authorities for his performance of his patriotic song of "Simele", and for being identified as a nationalistic singer.
Bet-Shmuel's songs express the finest Assyrian spirit of a proud people longing for liberty, which have become the foundation for a new Assyrian national school of musical composition.
While in Iran, Shlimon studied Music and English Literature at the University of Tehran.
An Assyrian Composer and song writer whose works have earned him the title of "Singer of the Assyrian Nation", most of Shlimon's work falls into two parts; Nationalistic and Folkloric. In the Nationalistic part it deserves mentioning a few well known and loved songs like "Simele", "Akkara", "O'rkha D'Nineveh" and "Arba Ello". The folk part, which has played an important role in Shlimon's artistic life and continues to do so, includes songs such as "Brata D'Oumtee", "Ainakh Shittraney", "Ashurina" and "Tlula". It must also be mentioned here, that Shlimon's efforts in combining romanticism with folkloric compositions has proven and displayed his artistic talent in writing short, but strong, and meaningful songs, such as "Warda Dimmana" or "The Bleeding Rose" and "Atra D'Yemee" or "My Motherland".
Simele, Bet-Shmuel's first record was released in April 1st, 1974. This project was sponsored by the "Assyrian Council of Tehran". The following year another record "Orkha D'Nineveh' was released. Also during this time, Bet-Shmuel performed in two concerts as well as in a variety of Assyrian festivals and social activities including a performance in the city of "Urmia" in the summer of 1975, where he spent two weeks visiting the Assyrian villages around Urmia, which inspired him to compose a new melody which resulted in a song titled "Ashurina".
In 1976 Shlimon Bet-Shmuel left Iran for the United States of America, after a short stay in Minot, North Dakota he settled in Chicago, Illinois. Here he released two record albums; "Echo of Nineveh" in 1979, and "The Road to Nineveh" on August 7, 1983. In September of 1989 Bet-Shmuel released an audio tape entitled "Nahrain the Mother".
In 1993, Shlimon completed an historical and sentimental visit to the northern part of his beloved homeland. During this visit, he paid homage to the burial grounds of recent Assyrian martyrs - "Yousip Toma", "Francis Shabo", "Mikhael Lazar (Abu Naseer)", "Jameel Matte" and "Sheba Hamee". It deserves to be mentioned that Bet-Shmuel was the first artist to visit and lay flowers.
Also, during his visit to the homeland, Bet-Shmuel dedicated a beautiful folk song entitled "Zomeh O'Kozeh" to the Assyrian people of Iraq. The song expresses the feeling of a deeply rooted practice of tending the flock by moving them up to the mountains in summer time, and bringing them down to the low lands in winter time, (racing with nature to catch the best green grass so they can produce the best milk). While in the village of "Sarsink", Shlimon met with shepherds and actually performed the song for them to see their reaction to a song that touches their own lives.
While in Duhok, Shlimon delivered a lecture on the Assyrian Original Melodies at the "Assyrian Cultural Center" of Duhok. Also during this visit he was interviewed numerous times by the local newspapers, publications, radio and television programs organized by the "Assyrian Cultural Center" of Duhok and participated in the commemoration events of Assyrian Martyrs Day on August 7, 1993 in Dohuk (Nohadra), where he delivered a speech and a poem entitled "Epic of Yousip, Hubert, Youkhanan", the three Assyrian Martyrs. He visited the areas of Barwar, Sapna, Zakho, Mangeshe, Simele, Aqqra, Erbil, Shaqlawa, and Diana, and met with farmers, intellectuals, and students residing in those regions.
In April, 1997, he gave a lecture on the Historical Influence of the Assyrian Music on Western Chants at the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock, California. He was also invited by the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain, in Ceres, California to participate in the commemoration of Assyrian Martyrs Day hosted on August 9, 1997, where he gave a speech on the Assyrian Martyrs and a lecture on the Historical Influence of the Assyrian music on western chants. Shlimon Bet-Shmuel's speech and lecture were very well received by close to four hundred people attending this event. During this same occasion, Bet-Shmuel performed "Simele", "Orkha D'Nenveh" and other songs while accompanied by Rev. Dr. Fereidoun Eshaq on the piano. The performance was very well received and the audience requested an encore for "Orkha D'Nineveh". This was a remarkable performance coming after years of self imposed solitude to protest the status-quo of Assyrian art. The event was televised via Assyria Vision TV, owned and operated by the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain, in Ceres, California to the local communities, as well as over the internet.
Shlimon Bet-Shmuel accepted an invitation from the Assyrian American National Federation, who hosted the annual Assyrian Convention, and delivered a lecture. This event took place on August 30, 1997 in the city of Dearborn, Michigan, where the convention was held. On November 23, 1997 the same lecture was delivered to the audience of the United Assyrian Youth of Canada, Toronto.
In October of 1998, the United Assyrian Associations in Europe extended an invitation to Bet-Shmuel to participate in various cultural activities for the club membership; his participation consisted of the following events:
- On October 22, 1998 Mr. Bet-Shmuel lectured at Ashur Association, Stockholm, Sweden on the Historical Influence of the Assyrian Music on Western Chants, he also performed some of his songs accompanied by the Swedish pianist Anna Boghenheim.
- On October 31, 1998 Mr. Bet-Shmuel delivered his lecture on the Historical Influence of the Assyrian Music on Western Chants, at Babylon Associaion, in Jonkoping, Sweden, November 6 at Nineveh Club, in Arhus, Denmark, November 8 at Bet-Nahrain Association in Wiesbaden, Germany
In 2002 a collection of his Greatest Hits was released. On April 9th, 2004 a very special album Boonie Ba - Boona, was released for the one year anniversary of OIF. Overall he has produced and released more than twenty five well arranged and orchestrated songs.
- In March 1999, Mr. Bet-Shmuel was invited by the Ashur Association of Stockholm, Sweden to give a concert and he performed on April 4, 1999 accompanied by a five piece Swedish orchestra.
- In July 2004, Mr. Bet Shmuel participated in Singing at the Middle Eastern Music Festival, sponsored by the University of Chicago.
- In August 2010, invited by the Assyrian-Australian Association in Sydney, Australia, attended and delivered a concert for Assyrian Martyrs Day, and then in Melbourne.
- In August 2011, Mr. Bet-Shmuel was invited by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, the Regional Government of Khurdistan, by the Directorate of the Syriac Culture and Arts to perform concerts, accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra of Khurdistan, conducted by Mr. Chato Nowrooz, and gave a lecture tour of Musical Instruments of Ancient Mesopotamia.
- Mr. Bet Shmuel continued to study music at the Old Town School of Folk Music, in Chicago (1998).
Mr. Bet-Shmuel has publish a book entitled "Musical Instruments of Ancient Mesopotamia" and the first part of his autobiography entitled "A Step Into the Unknown". And of course, still playing and composing new music and songs.